The Amazon Dash Wand with Alexa is a brand new, inexpensive battery-powered shopping and information device for the home. It’s similar, in a way, to the popular Amazon Echo smart speakers, but it’s different in lots of ways, too.
Amazon Echo devices are primarily used to listen to music, but, the new Dash Wand isn’t capable of playing music. It runs on two AAA batteries, and would quickly burn through them if it were tasked with playing Adele all day.
Another popular use for the Amazon Echo is to set timers. The Echo is often used in kitchens, and it acts as a handy, high-tech egg timer. Again, this popular function is not supported on the new Dash Wand.
So if it can’t perform these primary tasks, what is it used for? Just think of the Dash Wand as an Amazon bar-code reader for your home. It basically turns your house into the supermarket checkout aisle, and yes, it turns you into the cashier. Why? because it’s your job to scan everything being sold.
This isn’t a gadget that gives you more work to do. Who would want that? This is an inexpensive little thing that sticks to your refrigerator with a built-in magnet. You grab it any time you want to add something to your cart in Amazon.
Running low on dish soap? Don’t pull out a phone or a computer and search for it on Amazon. That’s a chore. Just grab the soap bottle, grab your Dash Wand, and scan the bar code on the bottle. The wand will make a pleasant chime, and you’re done. The exact same bottle of soap will be waiting for you in your Amazon cart. You complete the transaction on your computer or mobile device.
You can do other things with the wand as well. Pressing its button activates Alexa. You can ask her anything. She’s pretty good at telling you the weather, how many ounces are in a cup, what time a local business closes, etc. My favorite Alexa skill these days is asking her to spell words. She’s like spellcheck for the physical world. Going forward, you will write notes in greeting cards with complete confidence.
Getting this thing out of its box and running was pretty easy. You just need to install the two included AAA batteries (interestingly, mine came with Duracell, not the expected Amazon Basics brand), and you need to register it on a specific web page (www.amazon.com/wandsetup). A couple of basic steps were involved at the web page, but it got onto my home Wi-Fi network without needing to type the password.
The device itself is small, and so is the box it comes in. In fact, when I took it out of the envelope, my two-year-old asked if it was a tube of toothpaste. The dark end of the wand is a soft, rubber-like material that feels nice to touch. The button has a ring of Echo-like lights around it, and the built-in speaker is fairly loud, although, I wish it had a volume control. (It could easily wake up the two-year-old).
Is the Dash Wand a replacement for the Echo?
If you’ve been curious about getting an Amazon Echo or a Google Home speaker, I don’t think this product is a suitable replacement. Sure, the Dash Wand has an extremely tempting price, but it’s missing the core functionality that makes these smart speakers so appealing. No, not the ability to play Adele. It’s missing the “always listening” feature.
Okay, so the “always listening” feature is by far the creepiest thing about these devices. We have willingly bugged our own homes. We are wiring Big Brother’s electronic ear into living spaces. But, this is only a problem if you live in fear of Amazon. Personally, I’m okay with it. The novelty of just being able to speak up and talk to a computer is too good to pass up. This is what the Dash Wand lacks.
Remember, you need to physically press the button on the Dash Wand to speak to Alexa. It’s missing the magic of ambient computing. When you press its button, you don’t need to address it as Alexa, you can just get straight to your question. The nice thing about this is that if you have an Amazon Echo nearby, you won’t wake it up by saying its name.
There are several early reviews of the Dash Wand on Amazon that say negative things. These people were expecting it to play music and set timers. If you lower your expectations a little bit, you should be impressed. It’s a little wand that sticks to your fridge, buys soap for you, tells you the weather, and it can spell any word. If you think that’s lame, you’re a better speller than I.